Our Holy God
February 28, 2016
We’ve been looking at excellence for about 7 weeks now, and for the past 2-3 weeks we’ve talked about Spiritual Gifts. Please, fill out those Spiritual Gift inventories. I’ve received a few back, and it’s great going through them and seeing what your gifts are, and how you can put them to use for the glory of God. There are more on the table in the lobby.
Today, we’re going to continue to look at excellence, but it’s going to be a different way to look at it. We’re going to look at excellence through the eyes of God, as we consider God’s call to be holy, because He is holy. The approach is going to be a little different than a normal sermon.
If this message was receiving a movie rating, it would probably be PG-13 to R. I’m not kidding. It’s because so many people die in this story . . . literally thousands and thousands, and it tells the story of so much human pain, grief and divine judgment.
So why am I preaching from this text? Why not find a place in the Bible that’s comforting and positive? Because we need this story. We need it because it challenges one of the great delusions of our culture regarding God. We need it because it helps us base our lives on reality, before it’s too late.
We need to read and understand stories like today’s – – – because it’s harsh. Some may not like it, saying this is wrong! Some may say it’s stories like this, that they don’t believe in the Bible. We may think we have to apologize for our God.
Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. We never have to apologize for God. He always does what is right and perfect. We may not understand God’s ways, but we don’t need to apologize for God. God also never apologizes for His actions.
Our Scripture is about the holiness of God. And this holiness is expressed in and through judgement. The holiness of God is a positive and powerful feature of God’s character. We praise and thank God for that character. But for people who dishonor and disobey God, who choose sin, the holiness of God means trouble. And that’s what happens in this story.
Much of this story concerns the ark of God, which was one of the holiest objects in Israel’s religion. The ark was a box about the size of a small file cabinet that was kept in the Holy of Holies, in the Temple. In the ark was stored the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.
On top of the box were the statues of two heavenly beings called cherubim, and God said that above these cherubim His holy presence remained in the midst of Israel. God gave careful directions and warnings to Moses about how they were to treat the ark, because to mistreat the ark was to sin against God’s holiness. Whether intentional or accidentally, you’d die. And that’s serious. God warned that those who sinned against his holiness would die.
So, our story is about lots of people, including priests, who sinned against God’s holiness, who treated God without reverence, and consequently they died. The ark was treated it like a good luck charm.
Eventually, an Israelite asked ~ “Who can stand before this holy God?”
And that’s the question for today . . . Who can stand before this holy God?
That’s a huge introduction. We’re going to look at portions of 3 chapters from the book of 1 Samuel. So, let’s start by looking at portions of 1 Samuel 4:1-11.
1 Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines.
2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines, who killed about 4,000 men on the field of battle.
3 And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”
4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.
6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, “What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?” And when they learned that the ark of the Lord had come to the camp,
7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, “A god has come into the camp. Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before.
8 Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness.
9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight.”
10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home. And there was a very great slaughter, for 30,000 soldiers of Israel fell.
11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests, died.
Who can stand before this holy God? Not the Israelite soldiers. 4,000 die in the first battle, and 30,000 die in the second battle.
Who can stand before this holy God? Not even the priests: Hophni and Phinehas. These priests represent the worst evildoers in this story. In earlier chapters , you’d see they abused their power by taking offerings and feasting on the best meat — and sleeping with the young women who were helpers at the temple. In the end, God’s judgment fell upon them.
Divine judgment didn’t stop there — In 1 Samuel 4:12-18, a man came running back to town and cried out that the Israelites had been defeated. He came around and told Eli, a priest, and the father of Phineas and Hophni. When Eli heard the message, he fell over and died.
Who can stand before this holy God? Not Eli the priest. In chapters 2 and 3 you can read how Eli failed God by his negligence and weakness. When people told him about the sins of his sons, he didn’t become angry and take action. He weakly admonished them and did nothing to stop them. His failure to act permitted his wicked sons to go on profaning the temple of a holy God. The consequence – – he suffered a shameful death, as he fell from his chair, broke his neck, and died.
Divine judgment didn’t stop there.
The next passage speaks about the wife of Phineas, who was pregnant. When she heard the news, she went into labor, gave birth to a son named Ichabod, and her final words were —- 22 “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”– 1 Samuel 4:19-22
Who can stand before this holy God? Not the family members of Eli, Hophni, and Phinehas. But, divine judgment didn’t stop there.
The Philistines now had possession of the ark. Let’s see what happened next —
1 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.
2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and set it up beside Dagon.
3 And when the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place.
4 But when they rose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen face downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off on the threshold. Only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. — 1 Samuel 5:1-4
Who can stand before this holy God? Not the idol Dagon. Twice the idol statue fell face first before the ark of the Lord, and his head and hands, which represent his power, are broken off.
But, Divine judgment didn’t stop there.
In 1 Samuel 5:6-12 —
6 The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and He terrified and afflicted them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory.
7 And they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, for His hand is hard against us and against Dagon our god.”
8 So they convened and decided “Let the ark of the God of Israel be brought to Gath.” So they brought the ark of the God of Israel there.
9 But after they brought it, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic, and He afflicted the men of the city, both young and old, so that tumors broke out on them.
10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron. But as soon as the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people.”
11 They gathered all the lords of the Philistines and said, “Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.” For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there.
12 The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
Who can stand before this holy God? Not the people who serve the false god Dagon. Tumors and panic and death struck these idol worshipers. Did they repent of following Dagon and serve the true God? Nope, they reject God’s presence and held onto their idols.
Divine judgment didn’t stop there, but we are about done with the judgement.
In chapter 6 we read ~
1 The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines 7 months.
2 And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord?”
3 They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return Him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed, and it will be known to you why His hand does not turn away from you.”
The Philistines prepared a guilt offering and had the ark placed on a cart, led by cows and they went directly to Beth-Shemesh. When the ark arrived —
15 The Levites took down the ark of the Lord. And the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices on that day to the Lord.
16 And when the five lords of the Philistines saw it, they returned to Ekron.
19 And God struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord. He struck 70 men, and the people mourned because the Lord had struck the people with a great blow.
20 Then the men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?
Who can stand before this holy God? Not the Levites of Beth Shemesh, who end up putting into words our central question. God had assigned the town of Beth Shemesh to the tribe of the Levites, which was the tribe dedicated to serving the temple. God in his good providence now led the cattle to take the ark to the town where the men should have known how to treat it properly. They would have known what God told Moses.
In Numbers 4:20 God told Moses ~ 20 But the Kohathites shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.
So these Levites should have known how to treat the ark of God with proper respect, but they didn’t do it, and 70 of them died.
Okay, take a few deep breaths; this has been tough material. Understand this ~ God does not enjoy the deaths of anyone. In Ezekiel 33:11 we read ~ 11 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
As much as God wants people to live, this passage reflects the truth of Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” The moment we sin, we forfeit the privilege to live. God, who alone gives the gift of life, calls us to follow Him and be moral in our handling of everything. We live in a world where right and wrong are supposed to have real consequences. According to God, the consequence of committing sin – – – is death. If we are allowed to live beyond the moment of our sin — it is only by God’s infinite and powerful love, mercy and patience.
If we did receive what we deserve after even one sin, we would die instantly on the spot, like Ananias and Sapphira did in Acts 5 when they lied to the Holy Spirit. They lied, and they dropped dead.
Understand, this occurred in the New Testament, in the church. Also note that God never changes, as we read in Malachi 3:6 ~ 6 For I the Lord do not change. In Hebrews 13:8, we read – 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
In the life of Jesus, and since then, God revealed to a greater extent his salvation and mercy. He did not become less holy or any less opposed to sin. However, when Jesus came, something all-important did change.
So, why does God allow any evildoers to live? The Bible answers that question by saying that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). John wrote, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God loves sinners. God loves life, not death. God gives life, protects life, fosters life. All through Scripture he encourages people to follow His ways so they might live. Make no mistake; God is for life and for human beings.
God showed his attitude toward death when Jesus had a friend who died. Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for several days when Jesus arrived. Jesus came to the tomb with a clear purpose: He came to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew what was going to happen, yet when He came to the tomb the Bible says Jesus was deeply moved, and that “Jesus wept.”
Jesus is the Son of God; and knew that in a few moments Lazarus will be out of the tomb walking and talking again, and everyone will be celebrating; nevertheless in the face of death and the tomb Jesus weeps. I see Jesus revealing the heart of God. God grieves over death.
Jesus is anti-death; He is for life. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told Lazarus’s sister, 25 “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. – John 11:25-26.
Jesus could say this because God planned to do something about death. The Bible tells us that someday God is going to recreate and renew the earth and all creation. One of the most important features of the new earth is the fact that there will be no more death. God wants people to live. God hates death just as we hate death. John wrote ~
4 God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. For these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:4-5
OKAY . . . so what am I getting at today?!
That brings me to you!! Let me tell you this – – – God loves you and wants you to live. He wants you to thrive and live a great, passion filled, fulfilling life. Ultimately this sermon is not about the thousands of people who lived and died because they couldn’t stand before this holy God. This sermon is about you and whether you can stand before this holy God.
If you are not yet a Christ follower, the answer to that question is a resounding, no. On your own merits, you cannot stand before this holy God. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” On our own merit, no one can stand before this holy God — no one! All have sinned.
That’s why God in His love sent His unique, divine Son to earth. Jesus, who is fully God, also became fully man, so that as the God-man He could fix our problem. God the Father sent Jesus the Son to do what He alone could do.
Jesus lived a perfect, moral life and then He became a substitute for us in suffering the death penalty. Jesus took the punishment and death we deserved when He died for our sins on the cross.
Here is the amazing result of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. If you believe in Him and follow Jesus as your Lord, your sins will be forgiven and you can stand before this holy God. That’s the change Jesus brought about. He became our mediator with God. He became the Savior who perfectly and completely addresses the problem of sin. He makes us holy, so that we can be acceptable to a holy God.
In Colossians 1:21-22, Paul wrote ~ 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
22 He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you HOLY and blameless and above reproach before Him,
Notice the great news in verse 22. Because Jesus died the death you should have died, through your faith in Jesus, God will reconcile you to Himself and present you holy in His sight.
Through Christ, you can stand before this holy God because you too are now holy! Because Jesus was your substitute on the cross, you can stand “without blemish” before God. You can be “free from accusation.”
Who can stand before this holy God? By faith in Jesus Christ, you can.